Detroit Says: Thank You Rhode Island, For Showing Us How to Run a Charter School
The title above is not snarky or ironic. At least as far away as Detroit, Rhode Island is famous for its charter schools, according to nationally syndicated columnist Neal Peirce…
In 1999, Doug Ross and his colleagues made an outrageous “90-90” promise. In 2007, they would graduate at least 90 percent of ninth-graders going through their brand new University Preparatory Academy, an inner-city charter school [in Detroit]. And 90 percent would go on to post-secondary education.Wouldn’t it be nice if Rhode Island’s legislature was interested in building on Rhode Island’s successes with innovative education programs too? Lifting the current moratorium on opening new charter schools would be a reasonable place to start.
Next week, as the 128-student senior class marches in red and black robes across the stage of Detroit’s Opera House, receiving their diplomas and calling out the name of their college or trade school, the promise will be fulfilled. The graduation rate is expected to be 95 percent; of those, the college enrollment rate will likely be 100 percent….
[Ross and University Academy Co-Founder William Beckham] were personally angered by the short shrift for kids being offered by Detroit’s big factory-like, assembly-line schools — a mirror, they believed, of auto plants time-warped in Henry Ford-era production methods. Unable to manage quality on a student-by-student basis, overburdened by expensive central bureaucracy, the system, says Ross, inevitably turned out an “astounding number of lemons.”
Surveying what did work for inner-city students, Ross and Beckham decided to emulate Rhode Island’s now-famed MET schools, especially their focus on “one student at a time,” individualized learning plans and internships with businesses or nonprofits — a way to build on each child’s interests and give him or her exposure to the “real” world.
When the Met School, in Providence, opened in 1996, there was no high school quite like it, not here, not anywhere. But now there are 24 in such places as Sacramento, Indianapolis and Detroit, all modeled on this unusual institution, which Newsweek magazine calls one of the six best innovative schools in America….The Met is neither a charter school nor a Providence public school. It is a public school funded by the state.
The Met is an alternative school, to say the least. It does without the standard structure of classrooms and periods blocked out hour by hour. There are no classrooms at all in the traditional sense. Instead, each student has an individual learning plan based on his or her interests. Teachers guide them and follow their progress. “I want them to know how to study something really in depth,” says [Dennis Littky], the school’s larger-than-life director.
What looks like a loose kind of education really isn’t. The students must rigorously follow a course of study. Taught communications and reasoning skills, the adolescents present themselves and their ideas in a polished way. And no one seems bored. The Met has the highest attendance rate in the state.
The Met does not cherry-pick gifted students. The student body is chosen by lottery, with 75 percent from Providence and the rest from other parts of the state. Many come from poor households. More than 80 percent of the students qualify for federal meal subsidies. The student body is 40 percent Hispanic and 30 percent black.
It costs the state around $12,000 a year to educate a Met student. This is close to the Providence figure, but is a far better deal because of the extraordinary results.
Over 94 percent of the Met students graduated last year (versus 57 percent in the Providence schools). Every graduate was accepted at college — a higher college placement level than at Barrington High School.